(General) Do Casinos and Conferences Mix? My Experience at AIC's 47th Annual Meeting


The 47th Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation was held at the Mohegan Sun Casino in May 2019. This was a unique and interesting venue, which provided various opportunities for both educational and social events. I found the conference to be stimulating and engaging, and I felt that my attendance was very beneficial for my professional development. I participated in the conference in many ways, from attending the “Angel’s Project”, to creating and presenting a poster, to taking part in various ticketed events.

In order to prepare for the “Angel’s Project” (perhaps the last AIC event to be titled this way) at the New London Maritime Society, I watched the series of webinars created by C2CC about the RE-ORG methodology. The day itself was full of both hard labor and technical work, including constructing shelving, moving a wide variety of objects, and making sure to use limited supplies to their fullest extent. It was a very collaborative effort, and I enjoyed meeting new colleagues from a variety of specialties, who I went on to interact with during the rest of the conference. The director (and only employee), Susan Tamulevich, was extremely grateful for our help, and it was very satisfying to see the huge difference that about 20 volunteers were able to make in just 1 day (see image below). Many thanks to Rachael Arenstein, Simon Lambert, Lisa Goldberg, and Elizabeth Morse for organizing this event, and Susan for hosting us in her space.

A tired, but satisfied, group of volunteers after a long day of RE-ORG work at the New London Maritime Museum! (Photo from the Custom House Maritime Museum Facebook page)

The creation and presentation of a poster about my graduate project, “In-Depth Technical Analysis and Treatment of a Floral Still Life Painting”, was part of this wonderful opportunity as well (see image below). I received several questions about my research, and though I haven’t yet met anyone who could help confirm my attribution of the painting, I gained valuable experience explaining my findings to conservators of different specialties and levels of training.

Presenting my poster during the Author Q & A Session (Photo by Anna Ersenkal)

During the conference, I soaked up valuable information from the Paintings specialty sessions, and jumped over to some presentations in the Research & Technical Studies, Book & Paper, and “Let’s Talk About Gels!” segments. I also attended the PSG business meeting, where I was announced as the new Social Media Liaison, and listened intently to the spirited discussions at the AIC Member Business Meeting. I went to the ECPN information session to be updated on all the events they were coordinating, and to meet the new officers. The Annual Awards Presentation on Tuesday was quite touching, as multiple recipients teared up from emotion and gratitude, and one award was given posthumously to a great leader in the field.

Many sessions this year began with an acknowledgement of the sacred tribal land we were on, which brought the history of the local Native peoples to the forefront of our minds. I learned more about this at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, where the Opening Reception was held on Wednesday night. I toured the collections storage and research labs, and learned about some of the difficulties faced when running such a large building with so few staff members. The songs and dances performed by the various tribal representatives, later including crowd participation, were a wonderful inclusion to the evening (see image below).

Tribal representatives perform a traditional song and dance at the Opening Reception

The “Failure Shared” lunch session on Friday was particularly memorable, especially with the amusing introductions each speaker had written for themselves. Hearing that mistakes can happen, even to experienced conservators, was eye-opening and even encouraging. Several people spoke about mistakes in general and the psychology behind how and why we make them. This was a great opportunity to step back and take a look into the human psyche, rather than just commiserating or gasping at each speaker’s experiences. I learned valuable tips for keeping calm in moments of crisis, and though I hope I don’t have to put this knowledge to use anytime soon, such experiences are rather inevitable in long careers. I am grateful for this important platform which encourages honesty and realism.

There were many fun events planned during the conference, including the ECPN and ANAGPIC Happy Hours, receptions at two very different but equally fascinating museums, and breaks in the Exhibit Hall, which featured knowledgeable sponsors and delicious snacks. Once one left the conference spaces, the atmosphere of the casino itself was magnetic, and it was tempting to wander, shop, eat, and play the slot machines late into the night (see image below). I was content to take part in a small taste of this fun environment on the last night I stayed at the Mohegan Sun hotel, and would look forward to future AIC events being hosted in similar venues. It was a welcome distraction at the end of the day. Being able to walk everywhere and stay indoors was a nice bonus as well. My verdict: casinos and conferences definitely do mix!

View of the Mohegan Sun Casino, with indoor waterfall (left) and Chihuly sculpture (right)


I am extremely grateful to the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation for making this opportunity possible for me through the George Stout Grant Program. As a graduate student, conference attendance can be an expensive endeavor, but it is an extremely valuable part of obtaining a well-rounded conservation education. There are many ways to get involved, learn more about the field, and expand your knowledge. I can’t wait for next year in Salt Lake City!